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Former state senate leader gets 7 years on felony charges

It may be said that a politician who uses corruption to get elected to an office will be well qualified to corrupt the office itself once elected. That was part of the general message conveyed to former state Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith by a federal judge who sentenced Smith to seven years of incarceration recently in a federal district court. The unusual aspect of the felony charges against the defendant was that he tried to use bribery and promises of funding to get support from other politicians for his campaign for mayor of New York City in 2013.

Because he was a Democrat trying to run as a Republican for the mayoral position, he attempted to bribe several Republican legislators to support his campaign. Smith was found guilty by a jury and faced the judge this past week for his scheduled sentencing. The judge pointed out that even if the defendant wanted to be a good mayor, he could not get to that point by corrupting the process to achieve the office.

Smith had raised an entrapment defense that the jury rejected. The judge stated that the defendant could have said no to the suggestions that he do something wrong. There are several other state legislators who are on trial or have been convicted of corruption in the past few years. When defense counsel is retained in a case like this one, the prospect of plea negotiations should be discussed and evaluated with the client.

In this case, the defendant may have received a considerably reduced sentence to the felony charges had he entered a  guilty plea and asked for mercy. Of course, that is easier to propose in hindsight. Every defendant has a right to the presumption of innocence and the right to make the prosecution prove each element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. In New York as well as elsewhere, counsel must aggressively defend the accused client to give him or her the best available defense under the circumstances.

Source: New York Post, "Every New York politician should heed this judge's warning", July 1, 2015

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